by Carol Burk (November / December 2000 • Volume 16 • Number 6)
What do you do?
My letter of call says that I am director of learning ministry at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, Columbia, South Carolina. Quite simply, I am a Christian educator. I am responsible for all of the educational activities in the congregation.
Some of the verbs that describe my work are supervise, recruit, train, recommend, provide, maintain, administrate (programs and budget), advocate, represent, and lead.
Because I believe in lifelong learning, I relate to the entire congregation; most frequently, I relate to families with children. I spend a great deal of time working with the Sunday school and vacation Bible school programs.
However, I also enjoy creating new programs and new learning opportunities. I especially enjoy reviewing, adapting, and writing curriculum.
How do you see what you do as serving in response to the needs of the church and the world?
In 1976, John Westerhoff asked the important question Will Our Children Have Faith? (Seabury Press, 1976). As a Christian educator I respond daily to one of the greatest needs of the church today, that of helping the whole congregation assure that the faith will be passed on from generation to generation.
Christian education undergirds everything else that we do in the church. It is essential that we equip our children and youth to survive in a world that is becoming more and more hostile to Christianity.
As a lifelong Lutheran, I grew up in Sunday school. My years in Sunday school, as a child, youth, and adult, have helped me to form my own "Christian survival kit," a memory book that includes favorite passages of Scripture that I can recite from memory, Christian hymns and songs, and the story of salvation as written in the pages of Scripture.
All of these sustain me as I move about my daily activities. They are especially helpful when I an under stress or suffering from pain or grief.
My personal experience, as well as my seminary training and work experience, have set the stage to help me support the congregation through direct teaching and by recommending resources useful for personal growth in the Christian faith.
What is your rationale for taking the route of deaconess to serve the ELCA?
My personal sense of call led me to the Deaconess community. As I explored the possibility of pursuing a church vocation, I knew that I wanted to serve the church as an educator. My synod's Professional Leadership Committee (now known as the Candidacy Committee) provided me with resources describing the variety of opportunities for service in the church.
As I studied these materials, I gravitated toward the description of the Deaconess community. I was particularly interested in the concept of community.
As a deaconess (with the Deaconess Community of the ELCA, Gladwyne, Pennsylvania), I am part of a community of women who serve the church. This is much more than a professional organization. It is a true community. We support one another through daily prayer. There is not a concern that does not get the attention of the community. Our monthly newsletter keeps us informed of "family news."
Indeed, we are a family. Friends and acquaintances who are not familiar with the community often comment when I talk about my sisters. They know that I have only one blood sister. But they seem surprised when I talk about my 81 sisters in the Deaconess community.
Another reason for choosing the Deaconess community (or, better yet, for the Deaconess community choosing me) is that as a member of the community I am joined to all of those who have gone before, both in my present community and in the various communities of deaconesses all over the world.
Our community is part of Diakonia and Diakonia of the Americas and Caribbean, two organizations of deaconess groups throughout the world and a smaller group of deaconess groups in the Western Hemisphere.
These groups come from a variety of churches, not only Lutheran. It is humbling to me when I think of myself as a part of a worldwide movement. It gives me hope that the world truly can become a global village.
What concerns about rostered lay ministries in the ELCA do you want to share with the readers of Lutheran Partners?
My answer to this question comes in the form of three C's: communication, clarification, and celebration.
By communication, I am referring to simply getting the word out about the ministry of rostered lay persons in the ELCA. The ELCA candidacy process rightly makes the congregation the first point of contact for any candidate for ministry. It is the congregation that nurtures the sense of call in the individual. It is the congregation that must offer the first line of support for the candidate.
What many congregations do not understand is that it is the congregation that is in the business of recruiting and nurturing qualified candidates for all forms of ministry in the church.
In the Deaconess community of which I am a member, I have served on the Committee on Promotion and Interpretation. I know the costs and the difficulties of finding creative ways to tell persons in congregations about our ministries.
In a denomination the size of the ELCA with nearly 11,000 congregations and 5 million members, the costs of reaching individuals is staggering. We have relied on synods and the synodical units of Women of the ELCA to help us. Our organization known as The Friends of the Deaconess Community regularly makes efforts to recruit individuals in congregations who will tell our story.
|As a deaconess, I am part of a community of women who serve the church. This is much more than a professional organization. It is a true community.|
Other efforts by the Division for Ministry and our eight seminaries also attempt to reach people and let them know what avenues of ministry are available in the ELCA.
Even our best efforts have not been enough, however, to reach everyone in the ELCA. We need to find a way to reach individuals and instill in them a sense of responsibility for assuring that the church will have the best leadership — both clergy and lay — as we seek to minister to the church and the world in this new millennium.
Second, clarification refers to a need to interpret the rationale for rostered ministry to those who do not understand or see a need for paid lay staff in congregations, institutions, and agencies of the ELCA.
Those of us in rostered lay ministries see ourselves as serving in special areas of the church's ministries. Our ministries are not intended to replace or supercede those of the laity as a whole. We are all called through our baptism to serve Christ and his church.
Rostered lay persons provide support for the overall ministry of the congregation or agency or institution. For example, Christian educators are called to pay full time attention to the educational ministry of the congregation and work alongside many lay volunteers. The professional Christian educator can offer needed support for these volunteers through providing resources and clarification of vision.
In terms of shepherding imagery, the rostered lay church worker can be seen as the sheep dog who keeps the sheep together.
Finally, celebration. Rostered lay ministries are quite possibly one of the ELCA's best kept secrets. We need to celebrate the fact that the ELCA cares enough about the ministries of its congregations to train a variety of church professionals to support the ministry of the whole people of God.
It might be tempting for some of us who have been in rostered lay ministry for many years to say that we are underappreciated, but that would not be either completely fair or accurate. I prefer to say that perhaps we do not celebrate these ministries often enough.
In the history of the Lutheran church, persons in a variety of rostered lay positions have left their mark in every area of the church's life. I consider myself fortunate to be part of the Deaconess community, especially when I consider its history of training lay workers, especially in the School for Lay Workers that was run by the Baltimore Motherhouse for so many years. Some of the graduates of the Baltimore school have been my personal mentors.
I also celebrate the many hospitals, nursing care facilities, and schools that were created through the vision of deaconesses and other lay workers. It is critical that we not lose the memory of such great moments in Lutheran history. Indeed, we should celebrate the contributions of the many faithful workers who have served along with clergy and laity to proclaim God's Word through tireless service to the church.
Sister Carol Burk is director of learning ministry at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, Columbia, South Carolina. She is a member of the Deaconess Community of the ELCA, based in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania.